It is September already… and I struggle with this time of year. Summer is over and I love the summer, but now the colder days are looming, the nights are getting longer and I am starting to feel a bit low. I catch myself wondering if I have ‘made the most’ of the summer days, and start to feel anxious about the coming months, even though actually nothing has changed.
I don’t think I’m alone. For what seems like the hundredth autumn in a row, I fantasise about wintering far away, somewhere hot and sunny…but the reality is, just like everyone else else, I’m just going to have to cope with it.
Yes, I know autumn is the season of the ‘Pumpkin Spiced Latte’ (and my personal favourite, the ‘Gingerbread Cream Latte’), and lots of people LOVE the cooler weather, and stunning colours and scenic beauty… BUT I always feel that at this time of year, it’s easier to slip into feeling low and my mental and physical health requires a little more care than it does in the summer months.
I start feeling more tired and everything takes much more effort. I think I probably suffer to a small degree from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is thought to affect one in 15 people in the UK between the months of September and April, according to the NHS.
SAD can be terribly debilitating and have serious effects on the normal functioning of every day life, but there are other terms in use describing similar issues affecting people to a lesser degree: ‘Autumn Anxiety’ and ‘September Anxiety’ to name two.
However you chose to label it, the anxiety can take many forms, from generally feeling unsettled, to having trouble sleeping, experiencing mood swings and raised levels of stress, or even panic attacks. All of these have been experienced as a result of coping with seasonal change. As a counsellor, I know I was a lot busier in the autumn and winter months than in the summer, and research shows that suicide rates rise sharply at this time of year.
September always feels like the time to say goodbye to holidays, fun and time off work and return to reality, which releases new anxiety for a lot of us and a sense of wondering whether we can cope with what is around the corner…it can mean returning to school or university and the stress that can bring. It can even bring back to the surface old anxieties around returning to school, even though you may be in your forties! It can mean separation. It can certainly mean new challenges.
If you are feeling very depressed and are considering harming yourself, you MUST go and visit your GP who will be able to advise you. For me, having experienced this at the end of too many summers to count, it’s time to shake myself, count my blessings and switch my thinking. I remind myself that autumn and winter is part of the natural cycle and that this is not a permanent state. Instead of feeling sad that summer has gone, I try and consider the possibilities and opportunities autumn and winter can bring.
1. Keep yourself busy. Make an effort to throw yourself into things rather than hiding away. Easier said than done I know, but ask for support and let people around you know how you are feeling. You will be amazed at how many people you know are feeling exactly the same!
2. Ask your GP about taking extra Vitamin D. Vitamin D is synthised by our bodies when we are exposed to sunlight so our stores understandably run low when the sunlight fades. As well as maintaining a healthy immune system and healthy bones, it is also thought to improve low mood.
3. Make the most of the light that is available. Get outside as much as you can, go for walks in your work breaks and get out and do some mood lifting, leaf kicking in parks and woodlands at weekends. The autumn scenery is beautiful – enjoy it!
4. Plan the days and weeks ahead and include day trips away (or weekends if you are able to afford it.) There are often cheap rail deals available in the run up to Christmas and there are so many fantastic places to visit in the UK.
5. As the days get shorter, I get a bit tired and lethargic. Exercise is an amazing antidote to this, and even though it’s tough pulling on your trainers in the dark, an hour or so later you will be feeling full of beans I promise!
6. Try something new. At this time of year a lot of adult education courses are just starting. Fancy learning upholstery or a spot of pottery? I bet it’s been a while since you looked at what was on offer at your local college. I’m thinking of starting horse riding again which will give me something new to do AND get me outside! A friend of mine has just started a weekly book club! What could be nicer than getting together with friends on dark evenings around a fire discussing stories!
8. Consider volunteering. Volunteering for a few hours a week at a homeless shelter for example, can make all the difference to someone’s life. It is also an amazing leveller, working with people who are that much worse off than yourself.
9. East well. Invest in a crock pot/ slow cooker. I bought one last year and it’s heavenly coming in after a long day to the smell of an amazing stew/curry that has been slowly bubbling away all day.
10. Remember above all that you are not alone in feeling like this, no matter what your age! This time of year can raise anxiety levels among adults as much as it can in children who are nervously anticipating a new school year.
11. If you are dreading the autumn, close your eyes for a moment and think of all positive images that the word conjures for you. There must be some! I’m thinking warm coats, new boots, walks in the park, fireworks, log fires, hot chocolate and toffee apples!
12. There is no reason why seasonal change can’t be positive and bring with it new opportunities, renewed hope and an increased appetite for life. Taking extra care of yourself both mentally and physically at this time of year, may allow you to consider September and the coming of autumn, not as something to be anxious about, but rather as something to embrace and enjoy ❤️